How the Invisible God becomes Visible | Part 1

At the beginning of the book of Colossians is this curious phrase;

The Son is the image of the invisible God – Col 1:15

It hit me in a new way as I read it last week. To a lot of people God really does seem like the invisible God. Especially for those of us raised to think through western-influenced education, we are materialists. What we can see and observe are the things that we are most prone to believe.

Believers in a divine creator point to signs of beauty, complexity and design all around us. Nay sayers rightly point to the existence of evil and pain all around us and surmise that who ever the originator of our existence is he has long since dawdled away from our troubled existence as a planet and people.

Indeed, even those of us who profess belief in God, when circumstances are not going our way are prone to feel like God is distant, un-interested and certainly quite invisible. This is what is so special about the Christian ability to point to a flesh and blood image of this invisible God in Jesus. Jesus shows us what God looks like.

Humanity’s call to bear the image of God

I began to think about this term image, and quickly realised there are a number of places it crops up throughout scriptural witness, and most significantly in the Genesis origins story.

“ the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

It seems like there is something pretty important about this idea of image. God is interested in being known, in having his character, his likeness known. He is interested is becoming un-invisible.

In genesis the account uses a familiar word to ancient hearers that we translate into the word ‘image’. In the ancient world this word was most commonly used in relation to the idols of god’s. Idols, statues or totems were seen, not as the God’s themselves but as the place where the god could be found. The place where something of their presence resided, something that physically manifest the unseen reign and authority of the god. Later on in history, empires worldwide, including the roman empire used this idea of statues to assert the authority (and in that sense, presence) of Caesars and rulers across their vast empires. Places that the caesars themselves maybe had never visited physically, but nevertheless their authority was represented and their presence felt by the subjects.

That is why the word ‘Image’ is so shocking to ancient ears when it is heard in Genesis. The hearers are used to a world where it is the humans that create idols that bear the image of gods, but here is a God who creates images of himself and those images are human image bearers.

So God creates humanity in the garden to image or show himself, just like those idle idols of the gods of the ancient world. But this time, it is his breath that gives these image bearers real life. These humans are the place where God’s rule and reign are made visible in the garden.

We all know how the beginning of the story ended in a catastrophic fall from grace, but that was not the end of story. As Paul remarks so famously in Roman, Jesus becomes a kind of second Adam, a second humanity, a reclaiming of the ancient vocation of humans to bear the image of God faithfully.

Stay Tuned for Part two next week. Be sure not to miss it by signing up for a weekly email;

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Lighten Up | Standup Music Comedy by Reggie Watts


Friday (on Sunday) Link List | 30th January 2016

Every week I’m (trying to) post links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too, this time I missed a week, so this will be the biggest list yet!

On the flipside it was a busy couple of weeks so while I read, I didn’t have the time to write much. But the coming two weeks I have a couple posts in the works and a few guest posts from friends too!

…If you read something you think should be featured here submit it here, starting your message LINK LIST SUGGESTION.

What I’ve posted

Over the busyness of the last two weeks, helping run a staff conference we also got to celebrate our honourary niece here in South Africa who completed her first year of school by seeing Mi Casa play in the beautiful kirstenbosch gardens in Cape Town.

We also managed to pack in seeing Mumford and Sons plus the Soil! Lots of music in one week!

#MumfordandSons live in #CapeTown tonight

A photo posted by Liam Byrnes (@byrnesyliam) on

Theology and Christianity

True sacrifice is nothing other than the unity of people with one another through the participation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice reverses the idea that one must achieve domination over the enemy to achieve unity. Christ instead takes on the role of victim, absorbs the violence of the world instead of deals it out, and thereby offers a world in which reconciliation rather than violence can hold sway.

This is why the Eucharist is the antidote to war for Augustine. In the Eucharist, the whole economy of scarcity and competition that leads to war is done away with. Augustine makes clear that God does not need to be appeased as the Roman gods do. God is abundance, not lack, so participation in God’s life in the body of Christ does away with competition over scarce goods among people. True sacrifice is unity, and true unity is the participation of the human community in God’s life …

A few more paragraphs to this that are worth reading here.

…as Doug Wilson puts it, “David Bentley Hart is, by my rough estimate, about three times smarter than I am. The difficulty is that he writes as though he is five times smarter, and I find this off-putting.”

Martin Luther King Day and Race Relations

  • Given the increase in attention race relations in the US has been getting, the recent Martin Luther King Jr day created an oppurtunity for many insightful posts, not least this one from Rachel Held Evans. Although South Africa and the US’s histories have significant differences, these words from MLK particularly resonated for the modern context of SA;

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not . . . the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direction action.’ . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.


The UK-based international charity Oxfam reported this week that the world’s richest 62 people now own as much wealth as half the world’s population. Super-rich individuals saw an increase of 44 percent since 2010, taking their cumulative wealth to $1.76 trillion – equivalent to the total owned by 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest people. The report also stated that tax havens were helping corporations and individuals to stash away about $7.6 trillion, depriving governments of $190bn in tax revenue every year.

Praise God for things that are counter, original, spare and strange.

Like maybe me. Like maybe you.

Productivity and Habits

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Mumford and Sons Playing Cape Town this weekend

A few months ago, I mentioned Mumford and Sons release details of their first every tour of South Africa here and more recently they announced they will be supported ‘the Very Best’, ‘Beatenberg’, ‘John Wizards’ and ‘Baaba Maal’. Well the time has come. They played last night and tonight and so I thought Id share some music (both theirs and the support acts) for those who are attending and those who are far.

Mumford and Sons

Support Acts


The Very Best

John Wizards

Baaba Maal

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“There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end.”

Saint Augustine - City of God


Friday (on sunday) Link List | 17th January 2016

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too, next week I want to start sharing some links readers of the site are finding interesting…If you read something you think should be featured here submit it here, starting your message LINK LIST SUGGESTION.

What I posted recently

Well, it’s been a busy week back to work (yes, work other than writing on here), and we had a massive wild fire locally pictured here.

But I was delighted for the first time in a while to post a guest post from my friend Isaac Aho; Tolstoy on Christian non-violence.

Secondly, I posted a story (not mine), about an encounter around african polygamy which helps demonstrate how things which seems so clear cut from a distance become more human and therefore complex the closer you are to them.

Other than that I indulged in posting a little music (mostly for the last 40 seconds of the song!) Watch that here | MuteMath – Vitals.



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MuteMath – Vitals


Tolstoy on Christian non-violence | Isaac Aho

Over the past two years Isaac has been one of my favourite people to talk, drink, think and pray alongside. He recently completed an M.A. in Spiritual Formation with the University of the Nations and lives in South Africa with his family gathering people around discipleship and living out the ways of Jesus. Finally, He embodies a life long learner posture which continues to seek after truth, which is why I asked him to share these thoughts on a book He had just read. He previously wrote a post on this blog about the importance of mealtimes in Christian life you can read here. – Liam

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I recently picked up a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within. Reading the book proved to be a disturbing experience and I’m left to wrestle through some of his ideas and subsequent conclusions.

The premise of the book is that Jesus taught us to love all people, never repay evil with evil and to turn the other cheek even in the event of suffering personal violence. Tolstoy has a solidly christological1 hermeneutic. He interprets everything in the Bible based on who God is as revealed in Christ, and everything else written about God, attributed to God, or said to be God must look, act, and sound like Jesus, or it isn’t God.

A second premise Tolstoy expresses is that mankind is moving through stages of growth;

  1. We started out loving ourselves. He calls this the “animal” view of life.
  2. We progress to loving society which would be our nation or tribe. He calls this the “pagan” view.
  3. We will eventually come to love and embrace all mankind. He calls this the “divine” view.

Tolstoy believes that our governments, with the police and standing armies are there for one purpose only; to ensure those with wealth and privilege keep their status. He says the overwhelming source of violence in the world is “preemptive violence”. We do acts of actual violence to stop a potential violence.

I believe Tolstoy reads Ephesians chapter six and sees the “…principalities, powers and rulers of spiritual wickedness in high places” not as airy demons floating around causing mischief, but rather our structures, governments and institutions, that allow people to collectively cause massive damage and evil to others. Tolstoy explains how this becomes possible with this illustration: When I swear my allegiance to government or king and join an armed force, I feel justified in anything I do because I am “following orders”.

The responsibility gets passed off as I abdicate my responsibility to my commanding officer, who in turn passes it off as well. On the ground, I am allowed to shoot, kill, injure and abuse with impunity. Because my individual act is self defence, or in the defence of my country. I don’t feel the weight of my actions, even if I was to violently suppress my own countrymen.

Tolstoy says;

“How can men allow that murder is permissible while they preach principles of morality, and how can they allow of the existence in their midst of a military organisation of physical force which is a constant menace to public security? — It is only allowed by the upper classes, who profit by this organisation, because their privileges are maintained by it — The upper classes allow it, and the lower classes carry it into effect in spite of their consciousness of the Immorality of the deeds of violence, the more readily because through the arrangements of the government the moral responsibility for such deeds is divided among a great number of participants in it, and everyone throws the responsibility on someone else—moreover, the sense of moral responsibility is lost through the delusion of Inequality, and the consequent Intoxication of power on the part of superiors, and servility.”

Tolstoy also writes that in the time of Constantine the church joined the government along with their motivations. He says;

“Historically, Helchitsky attributes the degeneration of Christianity to the times of Constantine the Great, whom he, Pope Sylvester admitted into the Christian Church with all his heathen morals and life. Constantine, in his turn, endowed the Pope with worldly riches and power. From that time forward these two ruling powers were constantly aiding one another to strive for nothing but outward glory. Divines and ecclesiastical dignitaries began to concern themselves only about subduing the whole world to their authority, incited men against one another to murder and plunder, and in creed and life reduced Christianity to a nullity.”

Tolstoy would call anybody who professes to follow Jesus to practice the doctrine of “non-resistance to evil by force”. He acknowledges there will be martyrs but this is what Jesus taught, lived, (and died) but ultimately and inevitably, a peaceful world would emerge.

These are just a few of the ideas that Tolstoy writes about that are disturbing in the implication of how I should be living if they are true. If my privilege is obtained and maintained by threat or actual violence how do I live justly as one with privilege?

In very recent memory, I could hear the shots and taste the tear gas that floated across the valley as a people group desperate for justice in their community violently protested and were met with a greater violence to contain them. I would have to admit a certain security I felt in the fact that the people between me and those protesting had the “bigger guns.” This would prove Tolstoy correct as to why I would tolerate these standing armies. I will admit I like to buy my food at prices I could never produce for myself, and never question how this is possible and who is paying the difference. I like living in a home that would take me a lifetime to create if I used only my own labor, and not question how it came to be built.

I guess my conscience is comfortable with this arrangement because I assumed it was free market principles that made it so and everybody was choosing their lot.

What if it is only maintained because the guns on my side are bigger? I have to ask myself – where Jesus would be standing? I am afraid if Tolstoy is right, I am on the side of the guns aimed directly at Christ.

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  1. Christ-centred view 

The importance of a life..”lived in the same direction as your prayer…A prayer makes sense only if it is lived. Unless they are ‘lived’, unless life and prayer become completely interwoven, prayers become a sort of polite madrigal… Read More


Not always at straight forward as it seems | a story on African polygamy

“..On one of my trips I worshipped in an African church where nobody knew me. After the service I talked to two boys who had also attended.

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I asked the first one.


“Are they all from the same stomach?”

“Yes, my father is a Christian.”

“How about you?” I addressed the other boy.

He hesitated. In his mind he was adding up. I knew immediately that he came from a polygamous family.

“We are nine,” he finally said.

“Is your father a Christian?”

“No,” was the typical answer, “he is a polygamist”

“Are you baptised?”

“Yes, and my brothers and sister too,” he added proudly.

“And their mothers?”

“They are all three baptised, but only the first wife takes communion.”

“Take me to your father.”

The boy led me to a compound with many individual houses. It breathed an atmosphere of cleanliness, order and wealth. Each wife had her own house and her own kitchen. The father, a middle-aged, good-looking man, tall, fat and impressive, received me without embarrassment and with apparent joy.

I found Omodo, as we shall call him, a well-educated person, wide awake and intelligent, with a sharp wit and a rare sense of humor. From the outset he made no apologies for being a polygamist, he was proud of it. Let me try to put down here the essential content of our conversation that day which lasted for several hours.

“Welcome to the hut of a poor sinner!” The words were accompanied by good-hearted laughter.

“It looks like a rich sinner,” I retorted.

“The saints come very seldom to this place,” he said, “they don’t want to be contaminated with sin.”

“But they are not afraid to receive your wives and children. I just met them in church.”

“1 know. I give everyone a coin for the collection plate. I guess I finance half of the church’s budget. They are glad to take my money, but they don’t want me.”

I sat in thoughtful silence. After a while he continued, “1 feel sorry for the pastor. By refusing to accept all the polygamous men in town as church members he has made his flock poor and they shall always be dependent upon subsidies from America. He has created a church of women whom he tells every Sunday that polygamy is wrong.”

“Wasn’t your first wife heart-broken when you took a second one?” Omodo looked at me almost with pity “It was her happiest day,” he said finally.

“Tell me how it happened.”

“Well, one day after she had come home from the garden and had fetched wood and water, she was preparing the evening meal, while I sat in front of my house and watched her. Suddenly she turned to me and mocked me. She called me a ‘poor man,’ because I had only one wife. She pointed to our neighbor’s wife who could care for her children while the other wife prepared the food.”

“Poor man,” Omodo repeated. “1 can take much, but not that. I had to admit that she was right. She needed help. She had already picked out a second wife for me and they get along fine.”

I glanced around the courtyard and saw a beautiful young woman, about 19 or 20, come out of one of the huts.
“It was a sacrifice for me,” Omodo commented. “Her father demanded a very high bride price.”

“Do you mean that the wife, who caused you to become a polygamist is the only one of your family who receives communion?”

“Yes, she told the missionary how hard it was for her to share her love for me with another woman. According to the church my wives are considered sinless because each of them has only one husband. I, the father, am the only sinner in our family. Since the Lord’s supper is not given to sinners, 1 am excluded from it. Do you understand that, pastor?”

I was entirely confused.

“And you see,” Omodo continued, “they are all praying for me that I might be saved from sin, but they don’t agree from which sin I must be saved.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the pastor prays that I may not continue to commit the sin of polygamy. My wives pray that I may not commit the sin of divorce. I wonder whose prayers are heard first.”

“So your wives are afraid that you become a Christian?”

“They are afraid that I become a church member. Let’s put it that way. For me there is a difference. You see they can only have intimate relations with me as long as I do not belong to the church. In the moment I Would become a church member their marriage relations With me would become sinful.”

“Wouldn’t you like to become a church member?,,

“Pastor, don’t lead me into temptation! How can I become a church member, if it means to disobey Christ? Christ forbade divorce, but not polygamy. The church forbids polygamy but demands divorce. How can I become a church member, if I want to be a Christian;~ For me there is only one way, to be a Christian without the church.”

“Have you ever talked to your pastor about that?”

“He does not dare to talk to me, because he knows as well as I do that some of his elders have a second wife secretly. The only difference between them and me is that I am honest and they are hypocrites.”

“Did a missionary every talk to you?”

“Yes, once. I told him that with the high divorce rate in Europe, they have only a successive form of polygamy while we have a simultaneous polygamy. That did it. He never came back.”

I was speechless. Omodo accompanied me back to the village. He evidently enjoyed to be seen with a pastor.

“But tell me, why did you take a third wife?” I asked him.

“I did not take her. I inherited her from my late brother, including her children. Actually my older brother would have been next in line. But he is an elder. He is not allowed to sin by giving security to a widow.”

I looked in his eyes. “Do you want to become a Christian?”

“I am a Christian.” Omodo said without smiling.

As I walked slowly down the path, the verse came to my mind: “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.”

What does it mean to take responsibility as a congregation for Omodo? I am sorry that I was not able to see Omodo again, because I had met him while I was on a trip. I just report to you the essence of our conversation because it contains in a nutshell the main attitudes of polygamists toward the church It is always healthy to see ourselves with the eyes of an outsider.

I asked myself: What would I have done if I were pastor in Omodo’s town?

From Walter A. Trobisch, “Congregational Responsibility for the Christian Individual,” in Readings in Missionary Anthropology II, ed. William A. Smalley (South Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1978), PP. 233-235.

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